Research: Ministry Expansion Doesn't Automatically Lead to Attendance Growth
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two-thirds of all Protestant churches have expanded their ministry space or outlets in the past five years. Two of these types of expansion correspond to higher levels of growth in church attendance: adding a worship service and building new space on site. Five other types tested showed no significant relationship with growth.
Yet pastors estimate that only 1-in-3 newcomers to their churches are actually newcomers to church in general, according to a research study conducted by LifeWay Research for the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN). CKN was founded by Cogun Inc. and the Aspen Group as a network of firms focused on developing building and leadership solutions for churches.
The study, "Effects of Ministry Space and Outlet Expansion," was conducted Feb. 16-23, 2009, through a telephone survey of 1,000 pastors of randomly selected Protestant churches.
"We wanted to explore the various ways churches are expanding their ministry space as well as measure growth rate and type, costs, and staffing," said Jim Couchenour, director of marketing and ministry services at Cogun Inc. "We can now clarify the expansion options and how they might fit into a particular church's DNA and vision for more effective ministry."
Seven types of expansion were included in the survey:
- Building new or additional ministry space at the same site where your church is located.
- Building a new facility at a new site.
- Adding an additional worship service or venue on site.
- Adding an additional worship service or venue off site.
- Beginning to offer streaming video of worship services or teaching on the Internet.
- Directly participating in helping start a new church or churches.
- Merging with another church.
Of these seven types of ministry expansion, adding an additional worship service or venue on site is most closely related to higher growth in attendance, followed by building new or additional ministry space at the same site where the church is located. Churches that expanded in those two ways experienced significantly higher levels of growth in average worship attendance over a five-year period.
Protestant pastors were asked whether each of these types of expansion leads to growth. More than two-thirds of pastors agree (strongly or somewhat) that five of the types of expansion lead to growth. Only 42 percent agree merging with another church leads to growth beyond the attendance of the two merged churches, and 39 percent agree that offering online streaming video leads to additional in-person attendees.
One-in-4 pastors strongly agree that building additional space leads to growth, and 15 percent strongly agree that relocating to a new or different facility leads to growth.
Pastors in churches that have implemented a particular type of expansion are more likely to strongly agree that it leads to growth.
No expansion, less growth
Overall, 44 percent of Protestant pastors estimate that their worship attendance has grown by at least 10 percent during the previous five years, 23 percent estimate their attendance has declined at least 10 percent, and 33 percent report stable attendance.
Among churches that have not engaged in ministry expansion during the last five years, a far smaller percentage (34 percent) has experienced attendance growth. Thirty-seven percent report stable average worship attendance and 29 percent are declining.
"Many churches who do not take steps to expand are struggling," said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. "Pastors of churches who take the same message to more people through new methods and new media are expressing the positive impact of these steps of faith."
On average, Protestant pastors estimate 49 percent of their new attendees during the last five years have transferred from other congregations, while 32 percent were unchurched and 19 percent were children born to adults attending the church.
Among churches that have expanded their ministry the percent of new attendees who were previously unchurched does not vary significantly by type of expansion. The percentage of unchurched ranges from a low of 31 percent among churches that built a new facility at a new site to a high of 36 percent among churches that began streaming video of worship services and those that merged with another church.
Sixty-five percent of Protestant churches have expanded their ministries within the last five years in at least one of the seven ways surveyed. The specific types of expansion broke down as follows:
- 28 percent added an additional worship service or venue on site.
- 28 percent directly participated in helping start a new church or churches.
- 27 percent built new or additional ministry space at the same site.
- 14 percent began offering streaming video of worship services or teaching on the Internet.
- 10 percent added an additional worship service or venue off site.
- 4 percent built a new facility at a new site.
- 3 percent merged with another church.
Among the study's other findings:
Churches that have expanded their ministries in any of these ways hired an average of 0.6 full-time and 1.1 part-time employees related to this expansion.
The relative cost of each type of expansion varies widely with the most expensive option being building a new facility at a new site, followed by building additional ministry space on site. The least expensive expansion option is adding virtual space such as utilizing the Internet for worship services and/or teaching.